The wayward flight of the artillery shell which strayed five miles off course and exploded in a farmer’s field in Patney was due to the charge being too big, says the Army.

The shell was fired from a 105 Light Gun on the south of Salisbury Plain military training area but the wrong charge meant the shell went further than it should have done.

The shell exploded in farmer Andrew Snook’s field on Wednesday, March 5, leaving a 6ft by 6ft crater about 300 metres from the Paddington to Penzance railway line. No one was injured.

An Army spokesman said: “When the artillery shell was fired it was going in the right direction and it should have landed in the Salisbury Plain impact area but the charge was too big and it sent the shell beyond the intended target. The initial findings of the investigation are it was caused by human error.

“Anyone found to have fallen short of the standards of the British Army will be dealt with in an appropriate manner.”

As a result of the error the Army has introduced two additional safeguards. In future an extra person – a senior gunnery instructor – will be present and overseeing procedures when live firing takes place and further checks will be carried out on the charge bags which are loaded into the guns.

Four senior Army officers met members of Patney Parish Council and others on March 13 to explain the results of the investigation and also apologised.

Tracey Rose, chairman of Patney Parish Council, said: “The Army representatives were very open and they apologised. They had strict safety measures in place and something went wrong. Obviously it shouldn’t have happened but sometimes things happen.

“The additional safeguards they have put in are to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”